The definite planning of the poem in its present shape belongs to the autumn of 1862. In September 1862 he wrote to Miss Blagden from Biarritz of “my new poem which is about to be, and of which the whole is pretty well in my head—the Roman murder-story, you know." After the completion of the Dramatis Personae in 1863-64, the “Roman murder-story” became his central occupation. To it three quiet early morning hours were daily given, and it grew steadily under his hand. For the rest he began to withdraw from his seclusion, to mix freely in society, to “live and like earth’s way.” He talked openly among his literary friends of the poem and its progress, rumour and speculation busied themselves with it as never before with work of his, and the literary world at large looked for its publication with eager and curious interest. At length, in November 1868, the first instalment was published. It was received by the most authoritative part of the press with outspoken, even dithyrambic eulogies, in which the severely judicial Athenaeum took the lead. Confirmed sceptics or deriders, like Edward FitzGerald, rubbed their eyes and tried once again, in vain, to make the old barbarian’s verses construe and scan. To critics trained in classical traditions the original structure of the poem was extremely disturbing; and most of FitzGerald’s friends shared, according to him, the opinion of Carlyle, who roundly pronounced it “without Backbone or basis of Common-sense,” and “among the absurdest books ever written by a gifted Man.” Tennyson, however, admitted (to FitzGerald) that he “found greatness” in it, and Mr Swinburne was in the forefront of the chorus of praise. The audience which now welcomed Browning was in fact substantially that which had hailed the first fresh runnels of Mr Swinburne’s genius a few years before; the fame of both marked a wave of reaction from the austere simplicity and attenuated sentiment of the later Idylls of the King. Readers upon whom the shimmering exquisiteness of Arthurian knighthood began to pall turned with relish to Browning’s Italian murder story, with its sensational crime, its mysterious elopement, its problem interest, its engaging actuality.
[Footnote 47: W.M. Rossetti reports Browning to have told him, in a call, March 15, 1868, that he “began it in October 1864. Was staying at Bayonne, and walked out to a mountain-gorge traditionally said to have been cut or kicked out by Roland, and there laid out the full plan of his twelve cantos, accurately carried out in the execution.” The date is presumably an error of Rossetti’s for 1862 (Rossetti Papers, p. 302). Cf. Letter of Sept. 29, 1862 (Orr, p. 259).]